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December 2010 Archives

December 1, 2010

Snow, November 2010

We will remember this month's snow for a long time. Travel disruption has been unprecedented (airports closed, trains cancelled, roads impassable) and my ski-ing holiday seems unlikely to happen. Shoulder-deep in powder snow, poor Bramble can barely walk, almost having to swim. But amid all the practical chaos and everyday hassle, it's good to look around and notice the quiet beauty. Sounds are muted, shapes muffled, strangeness prevails.

Mundane objects like the balcony over our frozen pond have been transformed,

balcony.jpg

the ironwork chair has developed improbable, generous cushions of snow ...

chair.jpg

... and on the terrace, the chimenea has acquired a colossal crown.

chimenea.jpg

December 8, 2010

Me and my iPad

After months of sporadic use, I'm ready to say what the iPad does well. For me, it's the perfect travel companion, much smaller and lighter than my notebook Mac and with great battery conservation so I wouldn't even take its charger except on a long trip. So for email access, web browsing and drafting short documents, this is THE device.

Never having had or used an iPhone, I'm sure I'll be missing a few tricks. I needed a little help to access the copy/paste facilities and aspects of the interface aren't just as obvious to me as to others. The screen keyboard is almost very good but infuriatingly encourages apostrophe abuse and lacks cursor keys. But ebook reading and bookmarking is 100% intuitive and a pleasure to use. That's partly thanks to the superb screen, but also a product of intelligent design.

Having some captive time on a short flight I was pleased to use it to finish reading my free download of Pride and Prejudice. I felt I was reading the book faster than its printed equivalent, perhaps partly because of the two-page spreads and partly the excellent control of fonts and illumination. There can be no doubt that page turning is faster than on a physical book and it's certainly easier to hold in odd spaces. I was very surprised to read a study that claims people read physical books faster, and am now tempted to test this empirically.

Another blessing of the iPad is its capacity to back up photographs while on the move. My recent experience of loss on a flight led me to order the camera connection kit. This works a treat, is very fast and turns a chore into a pleasure. So In my perception, the iPad is simply the perfect holiday computer: light, powerful and pleasant to use. And the addition of games such as Flight Control HD makes it in high demand for grand-daughter Amy and friends.

Having yesterday broken my right collarbone on a ski holiday, I am pleased to report that the Apple keyboard has been a revelation. It's just wonderful to have my usual keyboard shortcuts back again: simple things like being able to alternate letters and numbers, or apostrophes and letters, without missing a beat make for fluent typing. And with one arm in a sling, the slick keyboard action makes me very glad of the last-minute whim that put it in my rucksack in case poor weather made for downtime. Little did I know how much downtime I'd have.

December 10, 2010

WWF releases a PDF downgrade

It may be rash to comment on a format I haven't seen, but according to French TV the WWF has released a new .wwf format that is supposed to replace the brilliant PDF (Adobe's portable document format) with the handy extra feature that you can't print from it. Brilliant: have we learned nothing from the fiascos of format wars? Think VHS versus Betamax, mobile phone chargers, and in 2010 lots of Word users unknowingly emailing files in .docx format to people who can't open them (without messing about with a conversion that most of them don't know is possible).

I am a lifelong hater of waste, and a keen recycler, but there are times when only a printout will do. I don't print about 99.5% of the documents I receive, mostly dealing with them on screen. But if I need printout, that is my decision, not the WWF's. The last thing the world needs is a fresh source of electronic frustration. Avoiding waste is an issue of education, habit and attitude, not electronic compulsion. And the PDF is a mature, useful de facto standard which allows you to transmit a document that transcends all the minor incompatibilities that computers would normally interpose between sender and recipient. It doesn't need to be replaced, especially not by something less competent.

Anyway it won't work. I bet I'll still be able to make a screen clip (Cmd-Shift-4 if you use a Mac) and print that. I sometimes resort to this method to overcome incompatibilities between browsers and airline websites that otherwise would frustrate the mere printing of a boarding card. And unless the WWF has also disabled the useful features of copy and paste, people will still print such documents if they want to. It will just be more bother and yet another instance of the fact that the Nanny State breeds workarounds.

PS I just saw this blog explaining how to overcome the "no-print" flag in what is only a slightly (pointlessly) encrypted PDF using open source software, further confirming that this attempt is doomed.

December 18, 2010

Sandy and Anna are engaged to be married

Today's great news is that son Sandy is to marry his girlfriend, the lovely Anna Knight. Keir and I are thrilled to bits. No date has been set, but the important decision has been made and their love and commitment made public.

Doubtless it's all over Facebook by now, but this blog is my chance to broadcast it: Keir and I are looking forward to welcoming Anna and her daughter Libby into our growing family. Hooray!

December 21, 2010

Lunar eclipse: winter solstice

It was only when we switched on BBC Breakfast this morning that we heard about today's lunar eclipse, and it was a welcome alert. Our view to the west of the full moon was spectacular, but the earth's shadow had already started taking a chunk out of its perfect sphere. Through binoculars, the moon seemed particularly 3-dimensional, and I went off to fetch tripod and camera. By the time I had woken up enough to start shooting, here is all that was left of the moon-sphere:

eclipseBeginsS.jpg

Just 16 minutes later, the shadow was total and the sky had begun to lighten slightly. Here is the eclipsed moon in a delicate shade of rose, apparently a result of indirect sunlight piercing the moon's shadow:

totalEclipseS.jpg

You can see better photos on the BBC website here, but despite current handicaps, I am glad to have attempted to capture my own image. After all, it's the first total eclipse at a winter solstice for nearly 400 years so I won't get another chance.

The eclipse was supposed to last for at least an hour, but sadly by then the sky was too light or the moon had set, and we saw no more. Now I'm looking forward to moonrise (due about 4pm) to check that all is well and the circle complete when it reappears.

About December 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in December 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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